Curtain call for Taupo rock carvings

00:29, Mar 07 2014
Taupo rock
RECOGNITION SOUGHT: Matahi Brightwell (third from left) and his cousin Jono Randell (second from left) carved the Mine Bay cliffs in 1978. Mr Brightwell is now looking for acknowledgement.

The man behind the Lake Taupo rock carvings has vowed to drape a curtain over his lakeside sculptures to protest against businesses profiting without his permission.

Matahi Brightwell initiated the carvings at a cliff face at Mine Bay in 1978 with his cousin Jono Randell and said he was sick of others prospering from his work.

''I don't want tourist operators to use my art for profit anymore after 34 years of misuse,'' said Mr Brightwell.

He said local operators and corporate giants had made use of his art and misrepresented its meaning  and he wanted to be acknowledged.

The images can be found on postcards and souvenirs and on a recent trip overseas he saw pictures of his carvings used to advertise flights to New Zealand.

He joined a tour group where the guide told customers the carvings were pre-European in origin and named the carvings despite Mr Brightwell never releasing that information.


''It's just a misuse of my art and the amount of money they had made out of my art and given nothing back - it's appalling."

Mr Brightwell and Mr Randell received an arts fund for tools but were unpaid for their work.

Mr Randell was had threatened to cover the carvings before his death last year which prompted Mr Brightwell's decision to go ahead with the plan.

He planned to hire a spinnaker sail to cover them.

''I want proper recognition of my art, that I am the instigator of that art, the origin of that artwork with my cousin Jono Randell. That's all I ask for.''

Legal advice was sought and Mr Brightwell was told the carvings were in the public domain and tourist operators were within their rights to take pictures.

He was unrepentant and said he would go ahead with his protest.

''I couldn't care less. It's my art, I gave it to Tuwharetoa (iwi) and you guys misused my tupuna's image and I don't like it. I'm putting a curtain up and you're going to negotiate with me how we are going to proceed.''

Ngati Tuwharetoa own the lakebed but the cliff was not part of the tribal estate and Taupo District Council staff could not find the relevant geographical information.

The carvings are situated at Whakamoenga Point on Lake Taupo's western bays and in the 1970s Mr Brightwell gained access to the cliffs across private property.

The carvings are sandwiched between the lake and a narrow strip of land categorised as a ''vacant recreational'' reserve.

Taupo district mayor David Trewavas declined to comment on the protest but said the carvings were part of Taupo's identity

.''The rock carvings are a huge asset to Taupo and tourists as well as locals absolutely love them. They are a part of who we are,'' he said.